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Pupil-led literary festival builds bridges with the community

June 28th, 2016

Vulnerable pensioners united with schoolchildren to share fascinating stories about their lives during a unique pupil-led literary festival.

Members of Community Connections, a local befriending scheme for isolated people over 50, came together with teenagers from Monmouth School, Haberdashers’ Monmouth School for Girls and Monmouth Comprehensive at the Shire Hall on Thursday, June 23.

Around 10 members of the scheme, including 92-year-old Betty Richards who used to attend HMSG, enjoyed tea and cake whilst reminiscing about old times with pupils who helped to organise the third annual Monmouth Literary Festival.

Their tales will be recorded in a special book called Collecting Memories, A Lifetime of Stories.

Barbara Johns, 70, volunteers with the Bridges-based project Community Connections, and once a week visits a disabled lady in Wyesham who is unable to leave her home without assistance.

She said: “We’re covering everything from our childhood memories to marriages.  It has been wonderful, the stories have been really interesting. The children have listened to us and were very polite – I’ve never heard of anything else like this before.

“I don’t think older people connect very often with teenagers. They might think they can’t relate to the younger generation. But coming to something like this would show them how positive it can be. Older people can feel very isolated from the rest of the world. If the time can be spared to take a group of youngsters out to chat to older people it would mean a lot.

“This is invaluable, I think it’s great. There should be more of this in whatever form it takes.”

Amusing anecdotes complemented stories of the war, marriages, births, school days and holidays.

One gentleman told a hilarious tale about burying his hen which died when he was a child. Deciding it didn’t look patriotic enough, he’d dug it up and painted it red, white and blue before reburying it.

Betty, who went to HMSG when Miss McDonald was Headmistress in the 1930s, now lives at the bottom of a long track in Trellech and for the last five years has been unable to leave her home without someone to drive her.

The former teacher brought a treasure trove of memories along with her to bring history to life for the pupils, including a section of parachute from the Second World War.

She said: “Miss McDonald was wonderful, she always did the best for her pupils. She inspired me to be a teacher. Maths and science were what I loved. Today has been very interesting, the children were so nice.”

Andy Williams, Deputy Head at Monmouth Comprehensive, told the guests: “We are hoping this will be the start of many more circles like this within the community. All the stuff you read about young people in the press is nonsense and the real young people, the future for us, is in the room here. The future is pretty safe.”

The Monmouth Literary Festival, which runs until June 29 this year, includes a packed schedule of visiting authors, illustrators, musicians and poets. Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, performed to a full house at The Savoy Theatre on June 22, during an event titled Shore to Shore.

Joined on stage by three of the fellow poets whom she most admires: Gillian Clarke, Imtiaz Dharker and Jackie Kay, the evening was accompanied by music from instrumentalist and composer John Sampson and also featured HMSG teacher and Costa Poetry Prize winner, Jonathan Edwards.

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